Related: California reeling from the foreclosure crisis

Profiles: Learning to live with less

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 

The Investigative Reporting Workshop and New America Media profiled those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis in communities of color.

New America Media

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. — This isn’t how Janet Lopez imagined her life at the age of 44. Divorced, living in an apartment alone, bankrupt, a victim of foreclosure. She said she feels like she is starting over.

Last March, Lopez was living in a beautiful, spacious house in Cathedral City, near the resort town of Palm Springs. She and her husband had put time, money and love into creating a comfortable home where they would grow old together.

But after nine years of marriage, Lopez and her husband divorced. They have a daughter who is now 21.

“When you buy a house together, you think you’re going to live there together… but unfortunately it didn’t work that way,” Lopez said.

Lopez continued to live in the home for about two years. The court ordered her husband to pay the monthly mortgage payments. But then the economy took a nosedive, and he found less and less construction work. Lopez only got a few hours a day of work as a caretaker. Her ex-husband stopped paying the mortgage for about eight months, saying he could no longer afford it.

She, too, had money problems, and had used credit cards to pay for groceries, gas and personal items, racking up about $10,000 in debt. With her credit cards maxed out and the minimum payments mounting, Lopez filed for bankruptcy last year.

Lopez said she now pays for everything with cash.

“It is better,” she said. “It’s kind of like a lesson learned.”

She also had to find a less-expensive apartment and settled on a place in Palm Springs she described as “ghetto,” dirty and noisy. She even had to deal with a broken air conditioner for two scorching months.

Lopez said she broke her lease after seven months. She was able to find an apartment in Cathedral City with a reasonable rent of $650 a month. She moved in a few months ago and said she is more comfortable there.

Lopez is slowly rebuilding her life. She is getting more work as a caretaker and saving money to return to school to become a certified nursing assistant.

“I never thought I’d be on my own,” Lopez said. “I never thought I’d survive. I miss my house, but what am I going to do? I put myself on a budget, and I’m doing well. I’m starting over.”

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.